Sym­phony, dance el­e­vate ex­plo­rations with a zither

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - ENTERTAINMENT - By CHEN NAN chen­nan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

A long­haired beauty, Zhao Jienan seems to match the im­age tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with a guzheng (Chi­nese zither) player.

How­ever, when she per­forms on­stage, au­di­ences are sur­prised by the moder­nity of her per­for­mances.

Dur­ing her recital in Bei­jing on Sept 30, Zhao per­formed with a sym­phony or­ches­tra, con­tem­po­rary dancers and elec­tronic mu­sic. She also in­vited other tra­di­tional Chi­nese in­stru­ment play­ers, in­clud­ing per­cus­sion­ist Wang Jianan and bam­boo flutist Yu Xiao­qing to per­form with her.

“I’m try­ing to show the guzheng can be mod­ern and ver­sa­tile,” says the 35-year-old mu­si­cian.

One of the pieces she per­formed was Shushan Moun­tain, com­posed by Chi­nese mu­si­cian Ma Ji­uyue. In­spired by the poem, Shu Dao Nan, by Tang Dy­nasty (618-907) poet Li Bai, the mu­sic piece por­trays the grandeur of the nat­u­ral scenery of Shushan Moun­tain.

Zhao first per­formed Shushan Moun­tain when she toured the United States with artists from the China Ori­en­tal Per­form­ing Arts Group in Septem­ber 2016, in­clud­ing a per­for­mance at the 18th World Mu­sic Fes­ti­val in Chicago.

“It was the first time that I per­formed the piece with dancers, which was a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence for me,” says Zhao, who un­til then had per­formed mostly as soloist. “With the dancers, the at­mos­phere was full of en­ergy and we in­spired each other’s per­for­mance.”

Since then, Zhao has adapted more solo works for the guzheng to in­cor­po­rate other el­e­ments, such as dance.

“I want to ex­press con­tem­po­rary peo­ple’s feel­ings through the guzheng,” she says. “I’ve seen many tra­di­tional Chi­nese in­stru­ment play­ers make ef­forts to keep their in­stru­ments alive by in­ject­ing con­tem­po­rary mu­sic el­e­ments into their per­for­mances. I find it ex­pres­sive to present other art forms on­stage when I play.”

“There are many peo­ple who play tra­di­tional guzheng works. Zhao Jienan is one of them. But she im­pressed me with her own un­der­stand­ing of my piece, Shushan Moun­tain, and she is keen on in­vent­ing new ways to in­ter­pret the work,” says com­poser Ma.

In another piece, The Dance of Ice and Fire, com­posed by Fang Dongqing, Zhao show­cased the spirit of the mu­sic not just through her in­stru­ment but also through mul­ti­me­dia. She also per­formed the piece, which was writ­ten for guzheng and sym­phony or­ches­tra, with Chi­nese folk dance, of­fer­ing the au­di­ences a vis­ual spec­ta­cle while lis­ten­ing to the mu­sic.

Orig­i­nat­ing dur­ing the War­ring States Pe­riod (475-221 BC), the guzheng is a Chi­nese plucked zither of usu­ally 18 to 23 strings, some­times more, and mov­able bridges. It is the an­ces­tor of sev­eral Asian in­stru­ments, such as the Ja­panese koto, the Mon­go­lian yatga, and the Korean gayageum.

Zhao, who was born into a mu­si­cal fam­ily in Ji­nan, Shan­dong prov­ince, started learn­ing the in­stru­ment with her fa­ther when she was 6 years old and she was en­rolled in the pri­mary school af­fil­i­ated to the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic in Bei­jing in 1991.

She was one of the top stu­dents with ex­cel­lent tech­nique, how­ever, she also be­gan to look for a new mu­sic lan­guage by lis­ten­ing to all kinds of cross­over mu­sic from around the world.

Af­ter gain­ing her master’s de­gree in guzheng per­for­mance from the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic in 2004, Zhao be­came a teacher at Minzu Uni­ver­sity of China as well as tour­ing world­wide with the uni­ver­sity’s folk or­ches­tra. Six years ago, she with­drew from the stage, mar­ried and gave birth to her son. Now, as a mem­ber of China Ori­en­tal Per­form­ing Arts Group, Zhao has re­turned to the lime­light.

“I have been try­ing to dis­cover the dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters of the guzheng and I hope the au­di­ence will be cu­ri­ous enough to ac­com­pany me in my ex­plo­rations,” Chang says.

WANG KAIGE / FOR CHINA DAILY

Guzheng soloist Zhao Jienan per­forms in a con­cert in Bei­jing on Sept 30.

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